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266                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
times up and down the hospital corridor, or to dance
mazurkas and foxtrots on his swollen, excruciatingly
painful stumps.
But back in the hospital he had pledged himself to
return to active service in Fighter Command. He had set
himself a goal, and he strove towards it in spite of sor-
row, pain, weariness and disappointment. One day a thick
envelope arrived at his new address, which Klavdia Mi-
khailovna had sent on. It contained some letters and one
from herself inquiring how he was getting on, what suc-
cesses he had achieved, and whether his dream had come
true.
"Has it?" he asked himself, but without answering he
began to sort the letters. There were several: one from
his mother, one from Olya, one from Gvozdev, and one
other that greatly surprised him. The address was written
in the hand of the "meteorological sergeant" and beneath
it was the inscription: "From Captain K. Kukushkin". He
read that one first.
Kukushkin wrote that he had been shot down: his plane
was hit and set on fire, he bailed out and managed to land
within his own lines, but in doing so he dislocated his arm
and was now at the medical battalion, where he was
"dying from ennui among the gallant wielders of ene-
mas", as he put it. He was not worrying, however, for he
was confident that he would soon be back in his plane. He
added that he was dictating this letter to his, Alexei's,
well-known correspondent Vera Gavrilova, who thanks
to him, is still called the "meteorological sergeant" in the
wing. The letter also said that Vera was a very good
comrade and a mainstay to him in his misfortune. At this
point Vera wrote on her own behalf, in parentheses, that,
of course, Kostya was exaggerating. From this letter Ale-
xei learned that he was still remembered in the wing, that
his portrait had been added to those of the heroes of the
wing that hung in the messroom, and that the Guards had
not lost hope of seeing him among them again. The
Guards! Meresyev smiled and shook his head. The minds
of Kukushkin and of his voluntary secretary must be
taken up very much with something if they forgot to
inform him of such an important event as the presenta-
tion of the Guards' Colours to the wing!